Historical Introductions to the Lutheran Confessions
XX. The Eleventh Article of the Formula of Concord - On Predestination.
222.Why Article XI was Embodied in the Formula.
The reason why Article XI was embodied in the Formula of Concord is stated in the opening paragraph of this article: “Although among the theologians of the Augsburg Confession there has not occurred as yet any public dissension whatever concerning the eternal election of the children of God that has caused offense, and has become wide-spread, yet since this article has been brought into very painful controversy in other places, and even among our theologians there has been some agitation concerning it; moreover, since the same expressions were not always employed concerning it by the theologians: therefore in order, by the aid of divine grace, to prevent disagreement and separation on its account in the future among our successors, we, as much as in us lies, have desired also to present an explanation of the same here, so that every one may know what is our unanimous doctrine, faith, and confession also concerning this article.” (1063, 1.)
The statements contained in these introductory remarks are in agreement with the historical facts. For, while serious dissensions pertaining to election did occur in Reformed countries, the Lutheran Church, ever since the great conflict with Erasmus on free will, in 1525 had not been disturbed by any general, public, and offensive controversy on this question, neither ad intra among themselves, nor ad extra with the Calvinists. Hence the chief purpose for embodying Article XI in the Formula was not to settle past or present disputes, but rather, as stated in the paragraph quoted, to be of service in avoiding future differences and conflicts.
This earnest concern for the future peace of our Church, as well as for the maintenance of its doctrinal purity, was partly due to apprehensions, which, indeed, were not without foundation. As a matter of fact, long before the Formula was drafted, the theological atmosphere was surcharged with polemical possibilities and probabilities regarding predestination,-a doctrine which is simple enough as long as faith adheres to the plain Word of God, without making rationalistic and sophistical inferences, but which in public controversies has always proved to be a most intricate, crucial, and dangerous question.
Calvin and his adherents boldly rejected the universality of God’s grace, of Christ’s redemption, and of the Spirit’s efficacious operation through the means of grace, and taught that, in the last analysis, also the eternal doom of the damned was solely due to an absolute decree of divine reprobation (in their estimation the logical complement of election), and this at the very time when they pretended adherence to the Augsburg Confession and were making heavy inroads into Lutheran territory with their doctrine concerning the Lord’s Supper and the person of Christ,-which in itself was sufficient reason for a public discussion and determined resentment of their absolute predestinarianism. The Synergists, on the other hand, had long ago been busy explaining that the only way to escape the Stoic dogma of Calvinism, and to account for the difference why some are accepted and elected, while the rest are rejected, was to assume a different conduct in man- aliqua actio dissimilis in homine. And as for their Lutheran opponents, it cannot be denied that some of their statements were not always sufficiently guarded to preclude all misapprehensions and false inferences.
Thus controversial material had been everywhere heaped up in considerable quantities. Considering these factors, which for decades had been making for a theological storm, one may feel rather surprised that a controversy on predestination had not arisen long ago. Tschackert says: “They [the Lutheran theologians] evidently feared an endless debate if the intricate question concerning predestination were made a subject of discussion.” (559.) Sooner or later, however, the conflict was bound to come with dire results for the Church, unless provisions were made to escape it, or to meet it in the proper way.Well aware of this entire critical situation and the imminent dangers lurking therein, the framers of the Formula of Concord wisely resolved to embody in it also an article on election in order to clear the theological atmosphere, maintain the divine truth, ward off a future controversy, and insure the peace of our Church.
223.Unguarded Statements of Anti-Synergists.
That the occasional dissimilar and inadequate references to eternal election and related subjects made by some opponents of the Synergists were a matter of grave concern to the authors of the Formula of Concord appears from the passage quoted from Article XI, enumerating, among the reasons why the article on predestination was embodied in the Formula, also the fact that “the same expressions were not always employed concerning it [eternal election] by the theologians.” These theologians had staunchly defended the sola gratia doctrine, but not always without some stumbling in their language. In their expositions they had occasionally employed phrases which, especially when torn from their context, admitted a synergistic or Calvinistic interpretation. The framers of the Formula probably had in mind such inadequate and unguarded statements of Bucer,Amsdorf, and others as the following.
Bucer had written: “The Scriptures do not hesitate to say that God delivers some men into a reprobate mind and drives them to perdition. Why, then, is it improper to say that God has afore-determined to deliver these into a reprobate mind and to drive them to perdition? Scriptura non veretur dicere, Deum tradere quosdam homines in sensum reprobum et agere in perniciem. Quid igitur indignum Deo, dicere, etiam statuisse antea, ut illos in sensum reprobum traderet et ageret in perniciem” (Frank 4, 264.) The Formula of Concord, however, is careful to explain:“Moreover, it is to be diligently considered that when God punishes sin with sins, that is, when He afterwards punishes with obduracy and blindness those who had been converted, because of their subsequent security, impenitence, and wilful sins this should not be interpreted to mean that it never had been God’s good pleasure that such persons should come to the knowledge of the truth and be saved.” (1001, 83.)
Brenz had said:“To the one of the entire mass of the human race God gives faith in Christ, whereby he is justified and saved, while He leaves the other in his incredulity that he may perish. Deus ex universa generis humani massa alteri quidem donat fidem in Christum, qua iustificetur et salvetur, alterum autem relinquit in sua incredulitate, ut pereat.” (Frank 4, 256.) Again: It was God’s will to elect Jacob and to leave Esau in his sin. What is said of these two must be understood of the election and rejection of all men in general. “Potuisset Deus optimo iure ambos abiicere; … sed sic proposuerat Deus, sic visum est Deo, sic erat voluntas Dei, sic erat bene placitum Dei, ut Iacobum eligeret, Esau autem in peccato suo relinqueret; quod de his duobus dictum est, hoc intelligendum erit generaliter de omnium hominum electione et abiectione.” (256.) Hesshusius: “In this respect God does not will that all be saved, for He has not elected all. Hoc respectu Deus non vult, ut omnes salventur; non enim omnes elegit.” (Schluesselburg 5, 320. 548.) Such statements, when torn from their context, gave color to the inference that God’s grace was not universal. The Formula of Concord, therefore, carefully urges that God earnestly endeavors to save all men, also those who are finally lost, and that man alone is the cause of his damnation.
In his Sententia de Declaratione Victorini of 1562 Nicholas Amsdorf said: “God has but one mode of working in all creatures … Therefore God works in the same way in man who has a will and intellect as in all other creatures, rocks and blocks included, viz., through His willing and saying alone … As rocks and blocks are in the power of God, so and in the same manner man’s will and intellect are in the will of God, so that man can will and choose absolutely nothing else than what God wills and says, be it from grace or from wrath. Non est nisi unus modus agendi Dei cum omnibus creaturis … Quare eodem modo cum homine volente et intelligente agit Deus, quemadmodum cum omnibus creaturis reliquis, lapide et trunco, per solum suum velle et dicere … Sicut lapides et trunci sunt in potestate Dei, ita et eodem modo voluntas et intellectus hominis sunt in voluntate Dei, ut homo nihil prorsus velle et eligere possit nisi id, quod vult et dicit Deus, sive ex gratia, sive ex ira, derelinquens eum in manu consilii eius.” (Schlb. 5, 547; Gieseler 3, 2, 230; Frank 4, 259.) This, too, was not embodied in the Formula of Concord, which teaches that, although man before his conversion has no mode of working anything good in spiritual things, God nevertheless has a different way of working in rational creatures than in irrational and that man is not coerced, neither in his sinning nor in his conversion. (905, 60ff.)
224. Synergistic Predestination.
The connection between the doctrines of conversion and election is most intimate. A correct presentation of the former naturally leads to a correct presentation of the latter, and vice versa. Hence Melanchthon, the father of synergism in conversion, was also the author of a synergistic predestination. In his first period he speaks of predestination as Luther did, but, as Frank puts it, “with less of mysticism conformably to reason, following the same line of thought as Zwingli (mit weniger Mystik, auf verstandesmaessige, Zwinglis Ausfuehrungen aehnliche Weise.” (1, 125; C. R. 21, 88. 93.) In reality he probably had never fully grasped the truly religious and evangelical view of Luther, which, indeed, would account for his later synergistic deviations as well as for the charges of Stoicism he preferred against Luther. After abandoning his former doctrine, he, as a rule, was noncommittal as to his exact views on election. But whenever he ventured an opinion, it savored of synergism. September 30, 1531, he wrote to Brenz: “But in the entire Apology I have avoided that long and inexplicable disputation concerning predestination. Everywhere I speak as though predestination follows our faith and works.And this I do intentionally, for I do not wish to perturb consciences with these inexplicable labyrinths. Sed ego in tota Apologia fugi illam longam et inexplicabilem disputationem de praedestinatione. Ubique sic loquor, quasi praedestinatio sequatur nostram fidem et opera. Ac facio hoc certo consilio; non enim volo conscientias perturbare illis inexplicabilibus labyrinthis.” (C. R. 2, 547.)
In the third, revised edition of his Explanation of the Epistle to the Romans, 1532, he suggests “that divine compassion is truly the cause of election, but that there is some cause also in him who accepts, namely, in as far as he does not repudiate the grace offered. Verecundius est, quod aliquamdiu placuit Augustino, misericordiam Dei vere causam electionis esse, sed tamen eatenus aliquam causam in accipiente esse, quatenus promissionem oblatam non repudiat, quia malum ex nobis est.” (Gieseler 3, 2, 192; Seeberg 4, 2, 442.) In an addition to his Loci in 1533,Melanchthon again speaks of a cause of justification and election residing in man, in order to harmonize the statements that the promise of the Gospel is both gratis and universal. (C. R. 21, 332.) In the Loci edition of 1543 we read: “God elected because He had decreed to call us to the knowledge of His Son, and desires His will and benefits to be known to the human race. He therefore approves and elected those who obey the call. Elegit Deus, quia vocare nos ad Filii agnitionem decrevit et vult generi humano suam voluntatem et sua beneficia innotescere. Approbat igitur ac elegit obtemperantes vocationi.” (21, 917.)
The bold synergistic views concerning conversion later on developed by Melanchthon plainly involve the doctrine that there must be in man a cause of discrimination why some are elected while others are rejected. In his Loci of 1548 he had written: “Since the promise is universal, and since there are no contradictory wills in God, some cause of discrimination must be in us why Saul is rejected and David accepted (cur Saul abiiciatur David recipiatur), that is, there must be some dissimilar action in these two.” (21, 659.) Self-evidently Melanchthon would not have hesitated to replace the phrase “why Saul was rejected and David accepted,” with “why Saul was rejected and David elected.”
Melanchthon held that the sole alternative of and hence the only escape from, the doctrine of absolute necessity (Stoica ajnavgkh) and from the absolute decree, which makes God responsible also for sin and eternal damnation, was the synergistic assumption of man’s “ability to apply himself to grace-facultas applicandi se ad gratiam.” Accordingly, as he dubbed those who opposed his Calvinizing views on the Lord’s Supper as “bread-worshipers,” so he stigmatized as Stoics all Lutherans who opposed his synergistic tendencies. (C. R. 8, 782. 783. 916; 9, 100. 565. 733; 23, 392.) Seeberg summarizes Melanchthon’s doctrine as follows: “Grace alone saves, but it saves by imparting to man the freedom to decide for himself. This synergistic element reappears in his doctrine of election.” (4, 2, 446.) “God elects all men who desire to believe.” (Grundriss, 144.)
Naturally the Synergists of Wittenberg and other places followed Master Philip also in the doctrine of election. In 1555, John Pfeffinger declared in his Quaestiones Quinque (extensively quoted from in the chapter on the Synergistic Controversy), thesis 17: “If the will were idle or purely passive [in conversion], there would be no distinction between the pious and the impious, or the elect and the damned, as between Saul and David, between Judas and Peter. God would become a respecter of persons and the author of contu- macy in the wicked and damned.Moreover, contradictory wills would be ascribed to God which conflicts with the entire Scripture. Hence it follows that there is in us some cause why some assent while others do not assent.” Thesis 23: “For we are elected and received because we believe in the Son. (Ideo enim electi sumus et recepti, quia credimus in Filium.) But our apprehension must concur. For since the promise of grace is universal, and we must obey the promise, it follows that between the elect and the rejected some difference must be inferred from our will, viz. that those are rejected who resist the promise while contrariwise those are accepted who embrace the promise.”
The Synergists argued: If in every respect grace alone is the cause of our salvation, conversion, and election, grace cannot be universal. Or, since man’s contempt of God’s Word is the cause of his reprobation, man’s acceptance of God’s grace must be regarded as a cause of his election. Joachim Ernest of Anhalt, for instance, in a letter to Landgrave William of Hesse, dated April 20, 1577, criticized the Formula of Concord for not allowing and admitting this argument. (Frank 4, 135. 267.)
225. Calvinistic Predestination.
While the Synergists, in answering the question why only some are saved, denied the sola gratia and taught a conversion and predestination conditioned by the conduct of man, John Calvin and his adherents, on the other hand, made rapid progress in the opposite direction, developing with increasing clearness and boldness an absolute, bifurcated predestination, i.e., a capricious election to eternal damnation as well as to salvation, and in accordance therewith denied the universality of God’s grace, of Christ’s redemption, and of the efficacious operation of the Holy Spirit through the means of grace. In his “lnstitutio Religionis Christianae, Instruction in the Christian Religion,” of which the first edition appeared 1535, the second in 1539, and the third in 1559, Calvin taught that God created and foreordained some to eternal life, others to eternal damnation. Man’s election means that he has been created for eternal life, man’s reprobation, that he has been created for eternal damnation. We read (Lib. 3, cap. 21, 5): “Praedestinationem vocamus aeternum Dei decretum, quo apud se constitutum habuit, quid de unoquoque homine fieri vellet. Non enim pari conditione creantur omnes; sed aliis vita aeterna, aliis damnatio aeterna praeordinatur. Itaque prout in alterutrum finem quisque conditus est, ita vel ad vitam, vel ad mortem praedestinatum dicimus.” (Tholuck, Calvini Institutio 2, 133.) In the edition of 1559 Calvin says that eternal election illustrates the grace of God by showing “that He does not adopt all promiscuously unto the hope of salvation, but bestows on some what He denies to others-quod non omnes promiscue adoptat in spem salutis, sed dat aliis, quod aliis negat.” (Gieseler 3 2, 172.) Again: “I certainly admit that ail the sons of Adam have fallen by the will of God into the miserable condition of bondage, in which they are now fettered; for, as I said in the beginning, one must always finally go back to the decision of the divine will alone, whose cause is hidden in itself. Fateor sane, in hanc qua nunc illigati sunt conditionis miseriam Dei voluntate cecidisse universos filios Adam; atque id est, quod principio dicebam, redeundum tandem semper esse ad solum divinae voluntatis arbitrium, cuius causa sit in ipso abscondita.” (173.) Calvin’s successor in Geneva, Theodore Beza, was also a strict supralapsarian. At the colloquy of Moempelgard (Montbeliard), 1586, in disputing with Andreae, he defended the proposition “that Adam had indeed of his own accord fallen into these calamities, yet, nevertheless, not only according to the prescience, but also according to the ordination and decree of God-sponte quidem, sed tamen non modo praesciente, sed etiam iuste ordinante et decernente Deo.” (186.) “There never has been, nor is, nor will be a time,” said he, “when God has wished, wishes, or will wish, to have compassion on every individual person. Nullum tempus fuit vel est vel erit, quo voluerit, velit aut voliturus sit Deus singulorum misereri.” (Pieper, Dogm. 2, 25. 50.)
In foisting his doctrine of election on the Reformed churches,Calvin met with at least some opposition.The words in the paragraph of the Formula of Concord quoted above: “Yet, since this article [of predestination] has been brought into very painful controversy in other places,” probably refer to the conflicts in Geneva and Switzerland. October 16, 1551, Jerome Bolsec [a Carmelite in Paris, secretly spread Pelagianism in Geneva; sided with the Protestants in Paris and Orleans after his banishment from Geneva; reembraced Romanism when persecution set in; wrote against Calvin and Beza, died 1584 was imprisoned in Geneva because of his opposition to Calvin’s doctrine of predestination. Melanchthon remarks in a letter of February 1, 1552: “Laelius [Socinus] wrote me that in Geneva the struggle concerning the Stoic necessity is so great that a certain one who dissented from Zeno [Calvin] was incarcerated.What a miserable affair! The doctrine of salvation is obscured by disputations foreign to it.” (C. R. 7, 932.) Although the German cantons (Zurich, Bern, Basel) advised moderation, Bolsec was banished from Geneva,with the result however, that he continued his agitation against Calvin in other parts of Switzerland. In Bern all discussions on predestination were prohibited by the city council. Calvin complained in a letter of September 18, 1554: “The preachers of Bern publicly declare that I am a heretic worse than all the Papists.” (Gieseler 3, 2, 178.) January 26, 1555, the council of Bern renewed its decree against public doctrinal discussions, notably those on predestination- “principalement touchant la matiere de la divine predestination, qui nous semble non etre necessaire,” etc. (179.) Later on the doctrine of Calvin was opposed by the Arminians from Semi-Pelagian principles.
226. Calvinistic Confessions.
The essential features of Calvin’s doctrine of predestination were embodied in most of the Reformed confessions. The Consensus Genevensis of January 1, 1552, written by Calvin against Albert Pighius [a fanatical defender of Popery against Luther, Bucer, Calvin; died December 26, 1542 and adopted by the pastors of Geneva, is entitled: “Concerning God’s Eternal Predestination, by which He has elected some to salvation and left the others to their perdition-qua in salutem alios ex hominibus elegit, alios suo exitio reliquit.” (Niemeyer, Collectio Confessionum, 218. 221.) The Confessio Belgica, of 1559, and the Confessio Gallicana, of 1561, teach the same absolute predestinarianism. In Article XVI of the Belgic Confession we read: In predestination God proved Himself to be what He is in reality, viz., merciful and just. “Merciful by liberating and saving from damnation and perdition those whom … He elected; just, by leaving the others in their fall and in the perdition into which they precipitated themselves. Iustum vero, alios in illo suo lapsu et perditione relinquendo, in quam sese ipsi praecipites dederunt.” (Niemeyer, 370.) The Gallic Confession [prepared by Calvin and his pupil, De Chandieu; approved by a synod at Paris 1559; delivered by Beza to Charles IX, 1561, translated into German 1562, and into Latin, 1566; adopted 1571 by the Synod of La Rochelle] maintains that God elected some but left the others in their corruption and damnation. In Article XII we read: “We believe that from this corruption and general damnation in which all men are plunged, God, according to His eternal and immutable counsel, calls those whom He has chosen by His goodness and mercy alone in our Lord Jesus Christ,without consideration of their works, to display in them the riches of His mercy, leaving the rest in this same corruption and condemnation to show in them His justice. Credimus ex hac corruptione et damnatione universali, in qua omnes homines natura sunt submersi, Deum alios quidem eripere, quos videlicet aeterno et immutabili suo consilio sola sua bonitate et misericordia, nulloque operum ipsorum respectu in Iesu Christo elegit; alios vero in ea corruptione et damnatione relinquere, in quibus nimirum iuste suo tempore damnandis iustitiam suam demonstret, sicut in aliis divitias misericordiae suae declarat.” (Niemeyer, 332; Schaff 3, 366.)
The Formula Consensus Helveticae of 1675 says, canon 13: “As from eternity Christ was elected Head, Leader, and Heir of all those who in time are saved by His grace, thus also in the time of the New Covenant He has been the Bondsman for those only who by eternal election were given to Him to be His peculiar people, seed, and heredity. Sicut Christus ab aeterno electus est ut Caput,Princeps et Haeres omnium eorum, qui in tempore per gratiam eius salvantur, ita etiam in tempore Novi Foederis Sponsor factus est pro iis solis qui per aeternam electionem dati ipsi sunt ut populus peculii, semen et haereditas eius,” etc. (Niemeyer, 733.)
The same Calvinistic doctrines were subsequently embodied in the Canons of the Synod of Dort, promulgated May 6, 1619, and in the Westminster Confession of Faith, published 1647. In the former we read: “That some receive the gift of faith from God, and others do not receive it, proceeds from God’s eternal election … According to His just judgment He leaves the non-elect to their own wickedness and obduracy.” (Schaff 3, 582.) “The elect, in due time, though in various degrees and in different measures, attain the assurance of this eternal and unchangeable election, not by inquisitively prying into the secret and deep things of God, but by observing in themselves,with a spiritual joy and holy pleasure, the infallible fruits of election pointed out in the Word of God, such as a true faith in Christ, filial fear, a godly sorrow for sin, a hungering and thirsting after righteousness, etc.” (583.) “Not all, but some only, are elected, while others are passed by in the eternal decree; whom God, out of His sovereign, most just, irreprehensible, and unchangeable good pleasure, hath decreed to leave in the common misery into which they have wilfully plunged themselves, and not to bestow upon them saving faith and the grace of conversion.” … (584.) “For this was the sovereign counsel and most gracious will and purpose of God the Father, that the quickening and saving efficacy of the most precious death of His Son should extend to all the elect, for bestowing upon them alone the gift of justifying faith, thereby to bring them infallibly to salvation; that is, it was the will of God that Christ by the blood of the cross whereby He confirmed the New Covenant should effectually redeem out of every people, tribe, nation, and language all those, and those only, who were from eternity chosen to salvation, and given to Him by the Father.” (587.) “But God, who is rich in mercy, according to His unchangeable purpose of election, does not wholly withdraw the Holy Spirit from His own people, even in their melancholy falls,nor suffer them to proceed so far as to lose the grace of adoption and forfeit the state of justification,” etc. (Schaff 3, 593; Niemeyer, 716.)
The Westminster Confession declares: “By the decree of God, for the manifestation of His glory, some men and angels are predestinated unto everlasting life, and others foreordained to everlasting death.” (Schaff 3, 608.) “As God hath appointed the elect unto glory, so hath He, by the eternal and most free purpose of His will, foreordained all the means thereunto. Wherefore they who are elected being fallen in Adam, are redeemed by Christ are effectually called unto faith in Christ by His Spirit working in due season; are justified, adopted, sanctified, and kept by His power through faith unto salvation.Neither are any other redeemed by Christ, effectually called, justified, adopted, sanctified, and saved but the elect only.” (609.) “The rest of mankind God was pleased, according to the unsearchable counsel of His own will, whereby He extends or withholds mercy as He pleases for the glory of His sovereign power over His creatures, to pass by, and to ordain them to dishonor and wrath for their sin, to the praise ofHis glorious justice."(610;Niemeyer,Appendix 6. 7.)
227.Marbach and Zanchi in Strassburg.
In view of the situation portrayed in the preceding paragraphs, it is certainly remarkable that a general public controversy, particularly with the Calvinists and Synergists had not been inaugurated long before the Formula of Concord was able to write that such a conflict had not yet occurred. Surely the powder required for a predestinarian conflagration was everywhere stored up in considerable quantities,within as well as without the Lutheran Church. Nor was a local skirmish lacking which might have served as the spark and been welcomed as a signal for a general attack. It was the conflict between Marbach and Zanchi, probably referred to by the words quoted above from Article XI: “Something of it [of a discussion concerning eternal election] has been mooted also among our theologians.” This controversy took place from 1561 to 1563, at Strassburg, where Lutheranism and Calvinism came into immediate contact. In 1536 Strassburg had adopted the Wittenberg Concord and with it the Augsburg Confession which since took the place of the Tetrapolitana delivered to Emperor Charles at the Diet of Augsburg, 1530. The efficient and zealous leader in Lutheranizing the city was John Marbach a graduate of Wittenberg and, together with Mathesius, a former guest at Luther’s table. He was born in 1521 and labored in Strassburg from 1545 to 1581, the year of his death.He had Bucer’s Catechism replaced by Luther’s, and entered the public controversy against the Calvinists with a publication entitled, Concerning the Lord’s Supper, against the Sacramentarians, which defends the omnipresence of Christ also according to His human nature.
In his efforts to Lutheranize the city, Marbach was opposed by the Crypto-Calvinist Jerome Zanchi (born 1516, died 1590), a converted Italian and a pupil of Peter Martyr [born September 8, 1500; won for Protestantism by reading books of Bucer, Zwingli, and others; professor, first in Strassburg, 1547 in Oxford; compelled to return to the Continent (Strassburg and Zurich) by Bloody Mary; died November 12, 1562, when just about to write a book against Brenz]. From 1553 to 1563 Zanchi was professor of Old Testament exegesis in Strassburg. Though he had signed the Augsburg Confession, he was and remained a rigid Calvinist, both with respect to the doctrine of predestination and that of the Lord’s Supper, but withheld his public dissent until about 1561. It was the Calvinistic doctrine of the perseverance of the saints, according to which grace once received cannot be lost, upon which Zanchi now laid especial emphasis. According to Loescher (Historia Motuum 3, 30) he taught: “1. To the elect in this world faith is given by God only once. 2.The elect who have once been endowed with true faith … can never again lose faith altogether. 3. The elect never sin with their whole mind or their entire will. 4.When Peter denied Christ, he, indeed, lacked the confession of the mouth, but not the faith of the heart. 1. Electis in hoc saeculo semel tantum vera fides a Deo datur. 2. Electi semel vera fide donati Christoque per Spiritum Sanctum insiti fidem prorsus amittere … non possunt. 3. In electis regeneratis duo sunt homines, interior et exterior. Ii,quum peccant, secundum tantum hominem exteriorem i.e., ea tantum parte, qua non sunt regeniti, peccant; secundum vero interiorem hominem nolunt peccatum et condelectantur legi Dei; quare non toto animo aut plena voluntate peccant. 4. Petrum, quum negavit Christum, defecit quidem fidei confessio in ore sed non defecit fides in corde.” (Tschackert 560; Frank 4, 261.) This tenet, that believers can neither lose their faith nor be eternally lost, had been plainly rejected by Luther. In the Smalcald Articles we read: “On the other hand, if certain sectarists would arise, some of whom are perhaps already extant, and in the time of the insurrection [of the peasants, 1525 came to my own view, holding that all those who had once received the Spirit or the forgiveness of sins, or had become believers, even though they should afterwards sin, would still remain in the faith, and such sin would not harm them, and hence crying thus: ‘Do whatever you please; if you believe, it all amounts to nothing: faith blots out all sins,’ etc.-they say, besides, that if any one sins after he has received faith and the Spirit, he never truly had the Spirit and faith: I have had before me many such insane men, and I fear that in some such a devil is still remaining [hiding and dwelling]. It is, accordingly, necessary to know and to teach that when holy men, still having and feeling original sin, also daily repenting of and striving with it, happen to fall into manifest sins, as David into adultery,murder, and blasphemy, that then faith and the Holy Ghost has departed from them. For the Holy Ghost does not permit sin to have dominion, to gain the upper hand, so as to be accomplished, but represses and restrains it so that it must not do what it wishes. But if it does what it wishes, the Holy Ghost and faith are not present.For St. John says, 1 Ep. 3, 9: ‘Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin, … and he cannot sin.’ And yet it is also the truth when the same St. John says, 1 Ep. 1, 8: ‘If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.'” (491, 42f.)
In an opinion of March 9, 1559, Melanchthon remarks that about 1529 some Antinomians maintained and argued “that, since in this life sin remains in saints, they remain holy and retain the Holy Spirit and salvation even when they commit adultery and other sins against their conscience … There are many at many places who are imbued with this error [that righteousness, Holy Spirit, and sins against the conscience can remain in a man at the same time], regard themselves holy although they live and persevere in sins against their consciences.” (C. R. 9, 764. 405. 473; 8, 411.)
The perseverance of saints as taught by Zanchi was the point to which Marbach immediately took exception. A long discussion followed, which was finally settled by the Strassburg Formula of Concord of 1563, outside theologians participating and acting as arbiters. This Formula, which was probably prepared by Jacob Andreae, treated in its first article the Lord’s Supper; in its second, predestination. It rejected the doctrine that, once received, faith cannot be lost, and prescribed the Wittenberg Concord of 1536 as the doctrinal rule regarding the Holy Supper.The document was signed by both parties, Zanchi stating over his signature: “Hanc doctrinae formam ut piam agnosco, ita eam recipio.” Evidently his mental reservation was that he be permitted to withdraw from it in as far as he did not regard it as pious. Later Zanchi declared openly that he had subscribed the Formula only conditionally. Soon after his subscription he left Strassburg, serving till 1568 as preacher of a Reformed Italian congregation in Chiavenna, till 1576 as professor in the Reformed University of Heidelberg, and till 1582 as professor in Neustadt. He died at Heidelberg as professor emeritus November 19, 1590. Marbach continued his work at Strassburg, and was active also in promoting the cause of the Formula of Concord.His controversy with Zanchi, though of a local character, may be regarded as the immediate cause for adding Article XI. The thorough Lutheranizing of the city was completed by Pappus, a pupil of Marbach. In 1597 Strassburg adopted the Formula of Concord.
228. The Strassburg Formula.
The Strassburg Formula of Concord sets forth the Scriptural and peculiarly Lutheran point of view in the doctrine of election, according to which a Christian, in order to attain to a truly divine assurance of his election and final salvation, is to consider predestination not a priori, but a posteriori. That is to say, he is not to speculate on the act of eternal election as such, but to consider it as manifested to him in Christ and the Gospel of Christ. Judging from his own false conception of predestination, Calvin remarked that the Strassburg Formula did not deny but rather veiled, the doctrine of election,-a stricture frequently made also on Article XI of the Formula of Concord, whose truly Scriptural and evangelical view of election the Reformed have never fully grasped and realized.
The Strassburg Formula taught that, in accordance with Rom. 15, 4, the doctrine of predestination must be presented so as not to bring it into conflict with the doctrines of repentance and justification nor to deprive alarmed consciences of the consolation of the Gospel, nor in any way to violate the truth that the only cause of our salvation is the grace of God alone; that the consolation afforded by election, especially in tribulations (that no one shall pluck us out of the hands of Christ), remains firm and solid only as long as the universality of God’s promises is kept inviolate, that Christ died and earned salvation for all, and earnestly invites all to partake of it by faith, which is the gift of grace, and which alone receives the salvation proffered to all; that the reason why the gift of faith is not bestowed upon all men, though Christ seriously invites all to come to Him, is a mystery known to God alone, which human reason cannot fathom; that the will of God proposed in Christ and revealed in the Bible, to which all men are directed, and in which it is most safe to acquiesce, is not contradictory of the hidden will of God. (Loescher, Hist Mot. 2, 229; Frank 4, 126. 262; Tschackert, 560.)
Particularly with respect to the “mystery,” the Strassburg Formula says: “The fact that this grace or this gift of faith is not given by God to all when He calls all to Himself, and, according to His infinite goodness, certainly calls earnestly: ‘Come unto the marriage, for all things are now ready,’ is a sealed mystery known to God alone, past finding out for human reason; a secret that must be contemplated with fear and be adored, as it is written: ‘O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out!‘Rom. 11, 33. And Christ gives thanks to the Father because He has hid these things from the wise and prudent and revealed them unto babes. Matt. 11, 25. Troubled consciences, however,must not take offense at this hidden way of the divine will but look upon the will of God revealed in Christ, who calls all sinners to Himself.” This was also the teaching of the contemporary theologians.Moerlin wrote: “God has revealed to us that He will save only those who believe in Christ, and that unbelief is chargeable to us. Hidden, however, are God’s judgments- why He converts Paul but does not convert Caiaphas; why He receives fallen Peter again and abandons Judas to despair.” Chemnitz: “Why, then, is it that God does not put such faith into the heart of Judas so that he, too, might have believed and been saved through Christ? Here we must leave off questioning and say,Rom.11:‘O the depth!’ …We cannot and must not search this nor meditate too deeply upon such questions.” Kirchner: “Since, therefore, faith in Christ is a special gift of God, why does He not bestow it upon all? Answer:We must defer the discussion of this question unto eternal life, and in the mean time be content to know that God does not want us to search His secret judgments,Rom. 11: ‘O the depth,’ etc.” In a similar way Chemnitz, Selneccer, and Kirchner expressed themselves in their Apology of the Book of Concord, of 1582, declaring that, “when asked why God does not convert all men, we must answer with the apostle: ‘How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out!’ but not ascribe to God the Lord the willing and real cause of the reprobation or damnation of the impenitent.” (Pieper, Dogm. 2, 585f.)
229. Predestination according to Article XI of Formula of Concord.
In keeping with her fundamental teaching of sola gratia and gratia universalis, according to which God’s grace is the only cause of man’s salvation, and man’s evil will the sole cause of his damnation, the Lutheran Church holds that eternal election is an election of grace, i.e., a predestination to salvation only.God’s eternal election, says the Formula of Concord. “does not extend at once over the godly and the wicked, but only over the children of God, who were elected and ordained to eternal life before the foundation of the world was laid, as Paul says, Eph. 1, 4. 5: ‘He hath chosen us in Him, having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ.’ " (1065, 5.) This election, the Formula continues, “not only foresees and foreknows the salvation of the elect, but is also, from the gracious will and pleasure of God in Christ Jesus, a cause which procures, works, helps, and promotes our salvation, and what pertains thereto; and upon this [divine predestination] our salvation is so founded that the gates of hell cannot prevail against it,Matt. 16, 18, as is written John 10, 28: ‘Neither shall any man pluck My sheep out of My hand,’ And again, Acts 13, 48: ‘And as many as were ordained to eternal life believed.’ " (1065, 8.) While thus election is a cause of faith and salvation, there is no cause of election in man. The teaching “that not only the mercy of God and the most holy merit of Christ but also in us there is a cause of God’s election on account of which God has elected us to everlasting life,” is rejected by the Formula of Concord as one of the “blasphemous and dreadful erroneous doctrines whereby all the comfort which they have in the holy Gospel and the use of the holy Sacraments is taken from Christians.” (837, 20f.)
Concerning the way of considering eternal election, the Formula writes: “If we wish to think or speak correctly and profitably concerning eternal election, or the predestination and ordination of the children of God to eternal life,we should accustom ourselves not to speculate concerning the bare, secret, concealed, inscrutable foreknowledge of God, but how the counsel, purpose, and ordination of God in Christ Jesus, who is the true Book of Life, is revealed to us through the Word, namely, that the entire doctrine concerning the purpose, counsel, will, and ordination of God pertaining to our redemption, call, justification, and salvation should be taken together; as Paul treats and has explained this article Rom. 8, 29f.; Eph. 1, 4f., as also Christ in the parable, Matt. 22, 1ff.” (1067, 13.)
While according to the Lutheran Church election is the cause of faith and salvation, there is no such a thing as an election of wrath or a predestination to sin and damnation, of both of which God is not the cause and author. According to the Formula the vessels of mercy are prepared by God alone, but the vessels of dishonor are prepared for damnation, not by God, but by themselves. Moreover,God earnestly desires that all men turn from their wicked ways and live.We read:“For all preparation for condemnation is by the devil and man, through sin, and in no respect by God, who does not wish that any man be damned; how, then, should He Himself prepare any man for condemnation? For as God is not a cause of sins, so, too,He is no cause of punishment, of damnation; but the only cause of damnation is sin; for the wages of sin is death.Rom. 6, 23.And as God does not will sin, and has no pleasure in sin, so He does not wish the death of the sinner either,Ezek. 33, 11, nor has He pleasure in his condemnation. For He is not willing that any one should perish, but that all should come to repentance, 2 Pet. 3, 9. So, too, it is written in Ezek. 18, 23; 33, 11: ‘As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked but that the wicked turn from his way and live,‘And St. Paul testifies in clear words that from vessels of dishonor vessels of honor may be made by God’s power and working, when he writes 2 Tim. 2, 21: ‘If a man, therefore, purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honor, sanctified and meet for the Master’s use, and prepared unto every good work,’ For he who is to purge himself must first have been unclean, and hence a vessel of dishonor. But concerning the vessels of mercy he says clearly that the Lord Himself has prepared them for glory, which he does not say concerning the damned, who themselves, and not God, have prepared themselves as vessels of damnation.” (1089, 81f.) “Hence the apostle distinguishes with special care the work of God, who alone makes vessels of honor, and the work of the devil and of man, who by the instigation of the devil, and not of God, has made himself a vessel of dishonor. For thus it is written, Rom. 9, 22f.: ‘God endured with much long-suffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction, that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had afore prepared unto glory.‘Here, then, the apostle clearly says that God endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath, but does not say that He made them vessels of wrath; for if this had been His will, He would not have required any great long-suffering for it. The fault, however, that they are fitted for destruction belongs to the devil and to men themselves, and not to God.” (1089, 79f.)
It is man’s own fault when he is not converted by the Word or afterwards falls away again.We read: “But the reason why not all who hear it [the Word of God] believe and are therefore condemned the more deeply, is not because God had begrudged them their salvation; but it is their own fault, as they have heard the Word in such a manner as not to learn, but only to despise, blaspheme, and disgrace it, and have resisted the Holy Ghost, who through the Word wished to work in them, as was the case at the time of Christ with the Pharisees and their adherents.” (1089, 78.) “For few receive the Word and follow it; the greatest number despise the Word, and will not come to the wedding,Matt. 22, 3ff. The cause of this contempt for the Word is not God’s foreknowledge [or predestination], but the perverse will of man, which rejects or perverts the means and instrument of the Holy Ghost, which God offers him through the call, and resists the Holy Ghost, who wishes to be efficacious, and works through the Word, as Christ says: ‘How often would I have gathered you together, and ye would not!‘Matt. 23, 37. Thus many receive the Word with joy, but afterwards fall away again, Luke 8, 13. But the cause is not as though God were unwilling to grant grace for perseverance to those in whom He has begun the good work, for that is contrary to St. Paul, Phil. 1, 6; but the cause is that they wilfully turn away again from the holy commandment, grieve and embitter the Holy Ghost, implicate themselves again in the filth of the world, and garnish again the habitation of the heart for the devil.With them the last state is worse than the first.” (1077 41f.; 835, 12.)
It is not because of any deficiency in God that men are lost; for His grace is universal as well as serious and efficacious. The Formula of Concord declares:“However, that many are called and few chosen is not owing to the fact that the call of God, which is made through the Word,had the meaning as though God said: Outwardly, through the Word, I indeed call to My kingdom all of you to whom I give My Word; however, in My heart I do not mean this with respect to all, but only with respect to a few; for it is My will that the greatest part of those whom I call through the Word shall not be enlightened nor converted, but be and remain damned, although through the Word, in the call, I declare Myself to them otherwise.Hoc enim esset Deo contradictorias voluntates affingere. For this would be to assign contradictory wills to God. That is, in this way it would be taught that God, who surely is Eternal Truth, would be contrary to Himself [or say one thing, but revolve another in His heart], while, on the contrary, God [rebukes and] punishes also in men this wickedness, when a person declares himself to one purpose, and thinks and means another in the heart, Ps. 5, 9; 12, 2f.” (1075, 36.)
It is a punishment of their previous sins and not a result of God’s predestination when sinners are hardened; nor does such hardening signify that it never was God’s good pleasure to save them.“Moreover,” says the formula,“it is to be diligently considered that when God punishes sin with sins, that is when He afterwards punishes with obduracy and blindness those who had been converted because of their subsequent security, impenitence, and wilful sins, this should not be interpreted to mean that it never had been God’s good pleasure that such persons should come to the knowledge of the truth and be saved. For both these facts are God’s revealed will: first, that God will receive into grace all who repent and believe in Christ; secondly, that He also will punish those who wilfully turn away from the holy commandment, and again entangle themselves in the filth of the world 2 Pet. 2, 20, and garnish their hearts for Satan, Luke 11, 25f., and do despite unto the Spirit of God,Heb. 10, 29, and that they shall be hardened, blinded, and eternally condemned if they persist therein.” (1091, 83.)
“But that God … hardened Pharaoh’s heart, namely, that Pharaoh always sinned again and again and became the more obdurate the more he was admonished, that was a punishment of his antecedent sin and horrible tyranny, which in many and manifold ways he practised inhumanly and against the accusations of his heart towards the children of Israel. And since God caused His Word to be preached and His will to be proclaimed to him, and Pharaoh nevertheless wilfully reared up straightway against all admonitions and warnings, God withdrew His hand from him and thus his heart became hardened and obdurate, and God executed His judgment upon him; for he was guilty of nothing else than hell-fire.Accordingly, the holy apostle also introduces the example of Pharaoh for no other reason than to prove by it the justice of God which He exercises towards the impenitent and despisers of His Word; by no means,however, has he intended or understood it to mean that God begrudged salvation to him or any person, but had so ordained him to eternal damnation in His secret counsel that he should not be able, or that it should not be possible for him, to be saved.” (1091, 85f.)
230.Agreement of Articles XI and II.
In the Formula ofConcord,Article XI is closely related to most of the other articles particularly to Article I, Of Original Sin, and Article II, Of Free Will and Conversion. Election is to conversion what the concave side of a lens is to the convex. Both correspond to each other in every particular. What God does for and in man when He converts, justifies, sanctifies, preserves, and finally glorifies him, He has in eternity resolved to do,-that is one way in which eternal election may be defined. Synergists and Calvinists, however have always maintained that the Second Article is in a hopeless conflict with the Eleventh. But the truth is, the Second fully confirms and corroborates the Eleventh, and vice versa; for both maintain the sola gratia as well as the universalis gratia.
Both articles teach that in every respect grace alone is the cause of our conversion and salvation, and that this grace is not confined to some men only, but is a grace for all. Both teach that man, though contributing absolutely nothing to his conversion and salvation, is nevertheless the sole cause of his own damnation. Both disavow Calvinism which denies the universality of grace. Both reject synergism, which corrupts grace by teaching a cooperation of man towards his own conversion and salvation. Teaching therefore, as they do, the same truths, both articles will and must ever stand and fall together. It was, no doubt, chiefly due to this complete harmony between the Second and the Eleventh Article that after the former (which received its present shape only after repeated changes and additions) had been decided upon the revision of the latter (the Eleventh) caused but little delay. (Frank 4,V. 133.)
Concerning the alleged conflict between Articles II and XI, we read in Schaff’s Creeds of Christendom: “There is an obvious and irreconcilable antagonism between Article II and Article XI. They contain not simply opposite truths to be reconciled by theological science, but contradictory assertions,which ought never to be put into a creed. The Formula adopts one part of Luther’s book De Servo Arbitrio, 1525, and rejects the other, which follows with logical necessity. It is Augustinian, yea, hyper-Augustinian and hyper- Calvinistic in the doctrine of human depravity, and anti-Augustinian in the doctrine of divine predestination. It endorses the anthropological premise, and denies the theological conclusion. If man is by nature like a stone and block, and unable even to accept the grace of God, as Article II teaches, he can only be converted by an act of almighty power and irresistible grace, which Article XI denies. If some men are saved without any cooperation on their part, while others, with the same inability and the same opportunities, are lost, the difference points to a particular predestination and the inscrutable decree of God. On the other hand if God sincerely wills the salvation of all men, as Article XI teaches, and yet only a part are actually saved, there must be some difference in the attitude of the saved and the lost towards converting grace, which is denied in Article II. The Lutheran system, then, to be consistent, must rectify itself, and develop either from Article II in the direction of Augustinianism and Calvinism, or from Article XI in the direction of synergism and Arminianism. The former would be simply returning to Luther’s original doctrine [?], which he never recalled, though he may have modified it a little; the latter is the path pointed out by Melanchthon, and adopted more or less by some of the ablest modern Lutherans."(1, 314. 330.) Prior to Schaff, similar charges had been raised by Planck, Schweizer, Heppe, and others, who maintained that Article XI suffers from a “theological confusion otherwise not found in the Formula.”
Apart from other unwarranted assertions in the passage quoted from Schaff, the chief charges there raised against the Formula of Concord are: 1. that Articles XI and II are contradictory to each other, 2. that the Lutheran Church has failed to harmonize the doctrines of sola gratia and gratia universalis. However, the first of these strictures is based on gross ignorance of the facts, resulting from a superficial investigation of the articles involved, for the alleged disagreement is purely imaginary. As a matter of fact, no one can read the two articles attentively without being everywhere impressed with their complete harmony. In every possible way Article XI excludes synergism, and corroborates the sola gratia doctrine of Article II. And Article II, in turn, nowhere denies, rather everywhere, directly or indirectly, confirms, the universal grace particularly emphasized in Article XI.
The framers of the Formula were well aware of the fact that the least error in the doctrine of free will and conversion was bound to manifest itself also in the doctrine of election, and that perhaps in a form much more difficult to detect.Hence Article XI was not only intended to be a bulwark against the assaults on the doctrine of grace coming from Calvinistic quarters, but also an additional reenforcement of the article of Free Will against the Synergists, in order to prevent a future recrudescence of their errors in the sphere of predestination. Its object is clearly to maintain the doctrine of the Bible, according to which it is grace alone that saves, a grace which, at the same time, is a grace for all, and thus to steer clear of synergism as well as of Calvinism, and forever to close the doors of the Lutheran Church to every form of these two errors.
According to the Second Article, Christians cannot be assured of their election if the doctrine of conversion [by grace alone] is not properly presented. (901, 47. 57.) And Article XI most emphatically supports Article II in its efforts to weed out every kind of synergistic or Romanistic corruption. For here we read: “Thus far the mystery of predestination is revealed to us in God’s Word; and if we abide thereby and cleave thereto, it is a very useful salutary, consolatory doctrine; for it establishes very effectually the article that we are justified and saved without all works and merits of ours, purely out of grace alone, for Christ’s sake. For before the time of the world, before we existed, yea, before the foundation of the world was laid, when, of course, we could do nothing good,we were according to God’s purpose chosen by grace in Christ to salvation,Rom. 9, 11; 2 Tim. 1, 9.Moreover, all opinions and erroneous doctrines concerning the powers of our natural will are thereby overthrown, because God in His counsel, before the time of the world, decided and ordained that He Himself,by the power of His Holy Ghost, would produce and work in us, through the Word, everything that pertains to our conversion.” (1077, 43f.; 837, 20.)
Again: “By this doctrine and explanation of the eternal and saving choice of the elect children of God, His own glory is entirely and fully given to God, that in Christ He saves us out of pure [and free] mercy, without any merits or good works of ours, according to the purpose of His will, as it is written Eph. 1, 5f.: ‘Having predestinated us,’ …Therefore it is false and wrong when it is taught that not alone the mercy of God and the most holy merit of Christ, but that also in us there is a cause of God’s predestination on account of which God has chosen us to eternal life.” Indeed, one of the most exclusive formulations against every possible kind of subtile synergism is found in Article XI when it teaches that the reason why some are converted and saved while others are lost, must not be sought in man, i.e., in any minor guilt or less faulty conduct toward grace shown by those who are saved, as compared with the guilt and conduct of those who are lost. (1081, 57f.) If, therefore, the argument of the Calvinists and Synergists that the sola gratia doctrine involves a denial of universal grace were correct, the charge of Calvinism would have to be raised against Article XI as well as against Article II.
In a similar manner the Second Article confirms the Eleventh by corroborating its anti-Calvinistic teaching of universal grace and redemption; of man’s responsibility for his own damnation; of man’s conversion, not by compulsion or coercion, etc. The Second Article most emphatically teaches the sola gratia,but without in any way limiting, violating, or encroaching upon, universal grace. It is not merely opposed to Pelagian, Semi- Pelagian and synergistic errors, but to Stoic and Calvinistic aberrations as well.While it is not the special object of the Second Article to set forth the universality of God’s grace, its anti-Calvinistic attitude is nevertheless everywhere apparent.
231.Mystery in Doctrine of Grace.
The second charge raised by Calvinists and Synergists against the Formula of Concord is its failure to harmonize “logically” what they term “contradictory doctrines”: sola gratia and universalis gratia,-a stricture which must be characterized as flowing from rationalistic premises, mistaking a divine mystery for a real contradiction, and in reality directed against the clear Word of God itself. Says Schaff, who also in this point voices the views of Calvinists as well as Synergists: “The Formula of Concord sanctioned a compromise between Augustinianism and universalism, or between the original Luther and the later Melanchthon,by teaching both the absolute inability of man and the universality of divine grace, without an attempt to solve these contradictory positions.” (304.) “Thus the particularism of election and the universalism of vocation, the absolute inability of fallen man, and the guilt of the unbeliever for rejecting what he cannot accept, are illogically combined.” (1, 330.) The real charge here raised against the Formula of Concord is, that it fails to modify the doctrines of sola gratia or universalis gratia in a manner satisfactory to the demands of human reason; for Synergists and Calvinists are agreed that, in the interest of rational harmony, one or the other must be abandoned, either universalis gratia seria et efficax, or sola gratia. In judging of the charge in question, it should not be overlooked that, according to the Formula of Concord, all Christians, theologians included, are bound to derive their entire doctrine from the Bible alone; that matters of faith must be decided exclusively by clear passages of Holy Scripture, that human reason ought not in any point to criticize and lord it over the infallible Word of God; that reason must be subjected to the obedience of Christ, and dare not hinder faith in believing the divine testimonies even when they seemingly contradict each other.We are not commanded to harmonize, says the Formula, but to believe, confess, defend, and faithfully to adhere to the teachings of the Bible. (1079, 52ff.) In the doctrine of conversion and salvation, therefore,Lutherans confess both the sola gratia and the universalis gratia,because they are convinced that both are clearly taught in the Bible, and that to reject or modify either of them would amount to a criticism of the Word of God, and hence of God Himself. Synergists differ from Lutherans, not in maintaining universal grace (which in reality they deny as to intention as well as extension, for they corrupt the Scriptural content of grace by making it dependent on man’s conduct, and thereby limit its extension to such only as comply with its conditions), but in denying the sola gratia, and teaching that the will of man enters conversion as a factor alongside of grace.And Calvinists differ from Lutherans not in maintaining the sola gratia, but in denying universal grace.
But while, in accordance with the clear Word of God, faithfully adhering to both the sola gratia and universalis gratia, and firmly maintaining that whoever is saved is saved by grace alone, and whoever is lost is lost through his own fault alone, the Formula of Concord at the same time fully acknowledges the difficulty presenting itself to human reason when we hold fast to this teaching. In particular, it admits that the question, not answered in the Bible, viz., why some are saved while others are lost, embraces a mystery which we lack the means and ability of solving, as well as the data. Accordingly, the Formula also makes no efforts whatever to harmonize them, but rather discountenances and warns against all attempts to cater to human reason in this respect, and insists that both doctrines be maintained intact and taught conjointly. Lutherans are fully satisfied that here every effort at rational harmonization cannot but lead either to Calvinistic corruption of universal grace or to synergistic modification of sola gratia. Thus the Lutheran Church not only admits, but zealously guards, the mystery contained in the doctrine of grace and election. It distinguishes between God in as far as He is known and not known; in as far as He has revealed Himself, and in as far as He is still hidden to us, but as we shall learn to know Him hereafter. The truths which may be known concerning God are contained in the Gospel, revealed in the Bible. The things still hidden from us include the unsearchable judgments of God, His wonderful ways with men, and, in particular, the question why some are saved while others are lost. God has not seen fit to reveal these mysteries.And since reason cannot search or fathom God, man’s quest for an answer is both presumptuous and vain. That is to say, we are utterly unable to uncover the divine counsels, which would show that the mysterious judgments and ways proceeding from them are in complete harmony with the universal grace proclaimed by the Gospel.
Yet Lutherans believe that the hidden God is not in real conflict with God as revealed in the Bible, and that the secret will of God does not in the least invalidate the gracious will of the Gospel.According to the Formula of Concord there are no real contradictions in God; in Him everything is yea and amen;His very being is pure reality and truth. Hence, when relying on God as revealed in Christ, that is to say, relying on grace which is pure grace only and at the same time grace for all, Christians may be assured that there is absolutely nothing in the unknown God, i.e., in as far as He has not revealed Himself to them, which might subvert their simple faith in His gracious promises. The face of God depicted in the Gospel is the true face of God. Whoever has seen Christ has seen the Father as He is in reality.
Indeed, also the hidden God, together with His secret counsels, unsearchable judgments, and ways past finding out, even the majestic God,in whom we live and move and have our being, the God who has all things well in hand, and without whom nothing can be or occur,must, in the light of the Scriptures, be viewed as an additional guarantee that, in spite of all contingencies, the merciful divine promises of the Gospel shall stand firm and immovable. Upon eternal election, says the Formula of Concord, “our salvation is so [firmly] founded ‘that the gates of hell cannot prevail against it.’ " (1065, 8.) As for us, therefore, it remains our joyous privilege not to investigate what God has withheld from us or to climb into the adyton of God’s transcendent majesty, but merely to rely on, and securely trust in, the blessed Gospel,which proclaims grace for all and salvation by grace alone, and teaches that whoever is saved must praise God alone for it, while whoever is damned must blame only himself.
Regarding the mystery involved in predestination, the Formula of Concord explains: “A distinction must be observed with especial care between that which is expressly revealed concerning it [predestination] in God’s Word and what is not revealed. For in addition to what has been revealed in Christ concerning this, of which we have hitherto spoken,God has still kept secret and concealed much concerning this mystery, and reserved it for His wisdom and knowledge alone, which we should not investigate, nor should we indulge our thoughts in this matter, nor draw conclusions nor inquire curiously, but should adhere to the revealed Word. This admonition is most urgently needed. For our curiosity has always much more pleasure in concerning itself with these matters [investigating things abstruse and hidden] than with what God has revealed to us concerning this in His Word, because we cannot harmonize it [cannot by the acumen of our natural ability harmonize the intricate and involved things occurring in this mystery], which, moreover, we have not been commanded to do.”
The Formula enumerates as such inscrutable mysteries: Why God gives His Word at one place, but not at another; why He removes it from one place, and allows it to remain at another; why one is hardened, while another, who is in the same guilt, is converted again. Such and similar questions, says the Formula,we cannot answer and must not endeavor to solve. On the contrary, we are to adhere unflinchingly to both truths, viz., that those who are converted are saved, not because they are better than others, but by pure grace alone; and that those who are not converted and not saved cannot accuse God of any neglect or injustice but are lost by their own fault. The Formula concludes its paragraphs on the mysteries in predestination by saying: “When we proceed thus far in this article [maintaining that God alone is the cause of man’s salvation and man alone is the cause of his damnation, and refusing to solve the problems involved], we remain on the right [safe and royal] way, as it is written Hos. 13, 9: ‘O Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself; but in Me is thy help.’ However, as regards these things in this disputation which would soar too high and beyond these limits, we should, with Paul, place the finger upon our lips, remember and say, Rom. 9, 20: ‘O man, who art thou that repliest against God?'” (1078, 52ff.)
232. Predestination a Comforting Article.
Christian doctrines, or doctrines of the Church, are such only as are in exact harmony with the Scriptures. They alone, too, are able to serve the purpose for which the Scriptures are given, viz., to convert and save sinners, and to comfort troubled Christians. Scriptural doctrines are always profitable, and detrimental doctrines are never Scriptural. This is true also of the article of eternal election. It is a truly edifying doctrine as also the Formula of Concord is solicitous to explain. (1092, 89ff.) However, it is comforting only when taught in its purity, i.e., when presented and preserved in strict adherence to the Bible; that is to say, when both the sola gratia and gratia universalis are kept inviolate.Whenever the doctrine of predestination causes despair or carnal security, it has been either misrepresented or misunderstood
In the introductory paragraphs of Article XI we read: “For the doctrine concerning this article, if taught from, and according to the pattern of the divine Word, neither can nor should be regarded as useless or unnecessary, much less as offensive or injurious, because the Holy Scriptures not only in but one place and incidentally, but in many places thoroughly treat and urge the same. Moreover, we should not neglect or reject the doctrine of the divine Word on account of abuse or misunderstanding, but precisely on that account, in order to avert all abuse and misunderstanding the true meaning should and must be explained from the foundation of the Scriptures.” (1063, 2; 1067, 13.)
“If it is treated properly,” says also the Epitome, the doctrine of predestination “is a consolatory article” (831, 1); that is to say, if predestination is viewed in the light of the Gospel, and particularly, if sola gratia as well as gratia universalis are kept inviolate. Outside of God’s revelation in the Gospel there is no true and wholesome knowledge whatever concerning election, but mere noxious human dreams. And when the universality of grace is denied, it is impossible for any one to know whether he is elected, and whether the grace spoken of in the Gospel is intended for or belongs to him. “Therefore,” says the Formula of Concord, “if we wish to consider our eternal election to salvation with profit,we must in every way hold sturdily and firmly to this, that, as the preaching of repentance, so also the promise of the Gospel is universalis (universal), that is, it pertains to all men, Luke 24, 47,” etc. (1071, 28.) By denying that universal grace is meant seriously and discounting the universal promises of the Gospel,“the necessary consolatory foundation is rendered altogether uncertain and void, as we are daily reminded and admonished that only from God’s Word, through which He treats with us and calls us, we are to learn and conclude what His will toward us is, and that we should believe and not doubt what it affirms to us and promises.” (1075, 36.) If God cannot be trusted in His universal promises, absolutely nothing in the Bible can be relied upon. A doctrine of election from which universal grace is eliminated, necessarily leads to despair or to contumaciousness and carnal security. Calvin was right when he designated his predestination theory, which denies universal grace, a “horrible decree.” It left him without any objective foundation whatever upon which to rest his faith and hope.
In like manner, when the doctrine of election and grace is modified synergistically, no one can know for certain whether he has really been pardoned and will be saved finally, because here salvation is not exclusively based on the sure and immovable grace and promises of God, but, at least in part, on man’s own doubtful conduct- a rotten plank which can serve neither foot for safely crossing the great abyss of sin and death. Only when presented and taught in strict adherence to the Bible is the doctrine of election and grace fully qualified to engender divine certainty of our present adoption and final salvation as well, since it assures us that God sincerely desires to save all men (us included), that He alone does, and has promised to do, everything pertaining thereto, and that nothing is able to thwart His promises, since He who made them and confirmed them with an oath is none other than the majestic God Himself.
Accordingly, when Calvinists and Synergists criticize the Formula of Concord for not harmonizing (modifying in the interest of rational harmony) the clear doctrines of the Bible, which they brand as contradictions, they merely display their own conflicting, untenable position. For while professing to follow the Scriptures, they at the same time demand that its doctrines be corrected according to the dictate of reason, thus plainly revealing that their theology is not founded on the Bible, but orientated in rationalism, the true ultimate principle of Calvinism as well as synergism.
In the last analysis, therefore, the charge of inconsistency against the Formula of Concord is tantamount to an indirect admission that the Lutheran Church is both a consistently Scriptural and a truly evangelical Church. Consistently Scriptural, because it receives in simple faith and with implicit obedience every clear Word of God, all counter-arguments to the contrary notwithstanding.Truly evangelical, because in adhering with unswerving loyalty to the seemingly contradictory, but truly Scriptural doctrine of grace, it serves the purpose of the Scriptures, which-praise the Lord-is none other than to save, edify, and comfort poor disconsolate sinners.
233. Statements of Article XI on Consolation Offered by Predestination.
The purpose of the entire Scripture, says the Formula of Concord, is to comfort penitent sinners. If we therefore abide by, and cleave to, predestination as it is revealed to us in God’s Word, “it is a very useful, salutary, consolatory doctrine.” Every presentation of eternal election, however which produces carnal security or despair, is false.We read: “If any one presents the doctrine concerning the gracious election of God in such a manner that troubled Christians cannot derive comfort from it, but are thereby incited to despair, or that the impenitent are confirmed in their wantonness, it is undoubtedly sure and true that such a doctrine is taught, not according to the Word and will of God, but according to [the blind judgment of human] reason and the instigation of the devil. For, as the apostle testifies, Rom. 15, 4: ‘Whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.’ But when this consolation and hope are weakened or entirely removed by Scripture, it is certain that it is understood and explained contrary to the will and meaning of the Holy Ghost.” (1093, 91f., 837, 16; 1077, 43)
Predestination is comforting when Christians are taught to seek their election in Christ. We read: “Moreover, this doctrine gives no one a cause either for despondency or for a shameless, dissolute life, namely, when men are taught that they must seek eternal election in Christ and His holy Gospel, as in the Book of Life, which excludes no penitent sinner, but beckons and calls all the poor, heavy-laden, and troubled sinners who are disturbed by the sense of God’s wrath, to repentance and the knowledge of their sins and to faith in Christ, and promises the Holy Ghost for purification and renewal, and thus gives the most enduring consolation to all troubled, afflicted men, that they know that their salvation is not placed in their own hands (for otherwise they would lose it much more easily than was the case with Adam and Eve in Paradise, yea, every hour and moment), but in the gracious election of God which He has revealed to us in Christ, out of whose hand no man shall pluck us, John 10, 28; 2 Tim. 2, 19.” (1093, 89.)
In order to manifest its consolatory power predestination must be presented in proper relation to the revealed order of salvation.We read:“With this revealed will of God [His universal, gracious promises in the Gospel] we should concern ourselves, follow and be diligently engaged upon it, because through the Word, whereby He calls us, the Holy Ghost bestows grace, power, and ability to this end [to begin and complete our salvation], and should not [attempt to] sound the abyss of God’s hidden predestination, as it is written in Luke 13, 24, where one asks: ‘Lord, are there few that be saved?‘and Christ answers:‘Strive to enter in at the strait gate.’ Accordingly, Luther says [in his Preface to the Epistle to the Romans]: ‘Follow the Epistle to the Romans in its order, concern yourself first with Christ and His Gospel, that you may recognize your sins and His grace; next that you contend with sin. as Paul teaches from the first to the eighth chapter; then, when in the eighth chapter you will come into [will have been exercised by] temptation under the cross and afflictions,- this will teach you in the ninth, tenth, and eleventh chapters how consolatory predestination is,’ etc.” (1073, 33.)
Predestination, properly taught, affords the glorious comfort that no one shall pluck us out of the almighty hands of Christ. The Formula says: “Thus this doctrine affords also the excellent glorious consolation that God was so greatly concerned about the conversion, righteousness, and salvation of every Christian, and so faithfully purposed it [provided therefor] that before the foundation of the world was laid,He deliberated concerning it, and in His [secret] purpose ordained how He would bring me thereto [call and lead me to salvation], and preserve me therein. Also, that He wished to secure my salvation so well and certainly that, since through the weakness and wickedness of our flesh it could easily be lost from our hands, or through craft and might of the devil and the world be snatched and taken from us, He ordained it in His eternal purpose, which cannot fail or be overthrown, and placed it for preservation in the almighty hand of our Savior Jesus Christ, from which no one can pluck us, John 10, 28. Hence Paul also says, Rom. 8, 28. 39: ‘Because we have been called according to the purpose of God, who will separate us from the love of God in Christ?’ [Paul builds the certainty of our blessedness upon the foundation of the divine purpose,when,from our being called according to the purpose of God,he infers that no one can separate us, etc.]"(1079, 45.) “This article also affords a glorious testimony that the Church of God will exist and abide in opposition to all the gates of hell, and likewise teaches which is the true Church of God, lest we be offended by the great authority [and majestic appearance] of the false Church, Rom. 9, 24. 25.” (1079, 50.)
Especially in temptations and tribulations the doctrine of eternal election reveals its comforting power. We read: “Moreover, this doctrine affords glorious consolation under the cross and amid temptations, namely, that God in His counsel, before the time of the world determined and decreed that He would assist us in all distresses [anxieties and perplexities], grant patience, give consolation, excite [nourish and encourage] hope, and produce such an outcome as would contribute to our salvation. Also, as Paul in a very consolatory way treats this, Rom. 8, 28. 29. 35. 38. 39, that God in His purpose has ordained before the time of the world by what crosses and sufferings He would conform every one of His elect to the image of His Son, and that to every one his cross shall and must work together for good, because they are called according to the purpose, whence Paul has concluded that it is certain and indubitable that neither tribulation nor distress, nor death, nor life, etc., shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus, our Lord.” (1079, 48.)